Medals hand-crafted in Africa will be awarded to runners who finish the two-kilometre family race at the upcoming Ottawa Race Weekend.
"It's all natural and it's really unique," said Carleton University student Taylor Wardle on Tuesday. She and her twin sister Breck watched some of the 3,000 medals being crafted by women in the seven villages of Cameroon's hot, mountainous Lebialem Valley.
"They're all handmade and they've all been slaved on so long," added Taylor, who was in the African nation to help run education projects with the North Bay, Ont.-based non-profit group International Children's Awareness Canada.
The medals, designed by Cameroonian artisan Bantu Freeman, are made of carefully sanded coconut shells, bamboo shoots and agejiga (ajuga) seeds.
The organizers of the May 29 race decided to buy 3,000 of them to support the Women's Jewelry Project and help its workers earn wages to pay for food, medical care, school fees and clothing for their families.
"We thought, 'Well, we have to purchase medals anyway…Why don't we do something good at the same time?'" said Jim Robinson, general manager of Run Ottawa, the group organizing the race weekend.
According to Run Ottawa, the medals have generated $10,000 for the local economy within the Lebialem Valley, which has a population of about 10,000.
Edward Smith, president of International Children's Awareness Canada, which runs health and education projects in the Lebialem Valley, first bought a batch of medals for a small race in North Bay. He saw an opportunity to expand at the Ottawa Race Weekend.
The Wardle twins said racers who receive the medals should be proud.
"They should feel like they're being part of something," said Taylor.
"Making a difference," Breck added.
About 36,000 people are expected to take part in the Ottawa Race Weekend, which runs May 29-30. Events include a marathon, half-marathon, 10-kilometre, five-kilometre and two-kilometre race. As of Tuesday, the two-kilometre race was the only event that was still open for registration, as all the other events are full.